Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

Ben's PS Tip #002


RAW Files embedded in Photoshop Smart Objects

by Ben Willmore & Uwe Steinmueller


One of the very powerful new features in Photoshop CS2 are the new Smart Objects. We will not cover Smart Objects in any detail here besides what is needed for our example. It's best you read Ben Willmore’s book “CS2 Up to Speed” .

Overall we find Smart Objects more helpful for Designers than photographers. But there is one feature that is very powerful for photographers indeed. You can embed a RAW file into a Smart Object layer. The process is not complicated but also not really obvious. The method we show was introduced to us by Ben Willmore.

Creating a Smart Object layer that contains a RAW file

First we may need to change a setting in Photoshop General Preferences:

Make sure that the “Resize Image During Paste/Place” property is not checked.

Create a new 16-bit RGB document in Photoshop of about 300x300 pixels (as you will learn the size does not really matter, just don't make it too large):

Next select a RAW file in Bridge and place it into the new document by using the Place->Photoshop command in Bridge:

This will open the Camera Raw dialog in Photoshop:

Change your RAW settings and confirm with Open . Now you see the following image in Photoshop CS2:

At this point the image is not yet really placed. To continue you need to confirm the placement with the Return key.

Because the RAW file is larger then our new created document we see only part of it. Fortunately there is the Image -> Reveal All tool in Photoshop available to get the full size back:

At this point we see the full sized converted RAW image as if it would be a normal Background image. A closer inspection reveals that we have created a so called Smart Object layer that contains the original RAW file. The first indicator is the different image title bar:

  • The file name is still “Untitled-1” while a normal opened RAW file would show the RAW file name.
  • The RAW file name shows up as a layer name which indicates that we have a layer and not simply a Background image

The Layers palette shows more:

The symbol flags Smart Objects.

Now that we finally have a RAW file as a Smart Object layer you probably ask: why is it worth the hassle? What is the big difference to having the converted RAW file as a normal Background image?

If you work with converted RAW files you have the following limitations:

  • If you wanted to change conversion parameters for the RAW conversion
    you have to start all over again
  • You also have to find the matching RAW file first

The RAW file in the Smart Object layer makes it much simpler. Double-click on the image thumbnail in the Layers palette and Camera Raw 3.x will open up again so that you can fine tune your raw conversions settings. There is no need to search for your RAW files as it is contained in the Smart Object layer. Finally all the information needed for your work on a certain RAW file is part of your image.

There is more to explore. You can create a second layer using the "New Smart Object Via Copy" command so that you can use it to have two interpretations of a single raw file and then use layer masks to combine the two images. Both RAW files can have completely different Camera Raw settings (e.g. different exposure or different white balance).

Exporting RAW files from a Smart Object

Because the Smart Object layer contains the full original RAW file we can even get the original RAW file back. Select the Smart Object layer that contains your RAW file and use Layer->Smart Objects->Export Contents:

We think that Smart Objects allow a seamless integration of RAW files and the needed final tuning in Photoshop.

Dr. Brown's Services 1.0 contain a script "Dr. Brown's Place-A-Matic" that makes this whole process much more easy (check out the movie).

Please check out Ben Willmore's books and training:


For Comments post in our News Group

2000-2005 Digital Outback Photo